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The Battle Within: An introduction to overcoming Addiction and Regaining Self-Control

A battle is going on inside us all, it is a terrible fight between wolves.

One is evil; anger, envy, sorrow, shame, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority and ego.

The other is good; joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion and faith.

So which wolf wins?

That’s easy, the one you feed.

So you’ve reached a section of my posts that are perhaps the most controversial of my writings so far. But the unconventional is often uncomfortable until it becomes familiar. As ever, there is method in my madness.

When it comes to self-control, there is a selection of mental conditions that have the power to overrule virtuous intentions, causing the individual in question to wage a ferocious battle between conflicting arguments in their mind. One of the hardest battles to fight is that of overcoming an addiction. After experiencing the devastating effects that addiction can have on an individual, through obtaining some invaluable first-hand evidence from several willing subjects, my forthcoming blogs on this subject are therefore here to help anyone gain back the self-control needed in order to successfully fight an addiction.

A subject that I will be dedicating a series of blogs to at a later date but which needs to be briefly touched upon now is that of thinking, and how our inner thoughts have the power to either ravage or liberate an unsteady mind, giving us the ability to bring about a distinctive change in how our lives evolve. Gaining control over conflict between intention and desire is never an easy thing to achieve, especially if your mind has succumbed to an addiction, but by following the approaches outlined in these blogs, you will be in a much better position to retrain your mind, or help to retrain that of a loved one. Everyone experiences a weakness in self-control at certain points in their life, so regardless of whether or not addiction is a problem in your life, I hope these blogs will be able to help you tackle whatever personal transgression you feel is compromising your poise.

During my research for these blogs, a friend asked me how addiction and obsession differ from each other, because without looking too closely they are similar kinds of afflictions. Although they appear fairly connected, they are very different. Let me explain. Obsessive behaviour often involves repetitively enacting the same routine, over and over again, with the belief it will prevent or invoke a certain circumstance from occurring, (as briefly mentioned in the context of my own OCD, in an earlier blog). It is also widely associated with individuals who become transfixed on an object, or a person (for instance, the dreaded ex), or a thought. The individual becomes perpetually preoccupied with the focus of their obsession and repetitively (and sometimes scarily) dwells on the imaginings of impossibly attainable situations involving whoever or whatever they might be pursuing.

Addiction, on the other hand, does involve repetition, but this time through either consuming something or performing a ritual of sorts, for instant gratification. The need for that gratification becomes so ingrained in the everyday needs of the individual that it turns into a physical and mental dependence. The sufferer has to compulsively repeat the act to gain the satisfaction to keep them at peace.

Whether the addiction is to drugs, alcohol, smoking, gambling, sex, eating or even shopping, to name but a few, the scientific process behind the ‘high’ that results, sees the addict’s brain producing increased levels of the naturally-occurring neurotransmitter dopamine, which, among other things, modulates the brain’s ability to perceive reward reinforcement.

Addiction used to be considered a trait that afflicted the morally-flawed or weak-willed individuals of the world. Scientific consensus has changed over time, however, and addiction is now often considered to be a chronic disease, which changes both the structure and function of the brain. In a similar way to how cardiovascular disease damages the heart, and respiratory disease damages the lungs, addiction hijacks the brain.

The Problem with Starving an Addiction

Because there are no pharmacological cures for this plight, there is a lot of scepticism and conjecture about the actual possibility of a cure. Moreover, divisions of the medical world don’t even believe an addiction can ever be removed from a person’s psyche, only covered up and controlled. Starving the addiction is the accepted management approach. Just as for many other diseases, however, there is an attainable cure for addiction, which is what these blogs are all about, regaining self-control. With 100% devotion to crushing your addiction, there is a strong chance that you can be freed from its grip, gaining back your self-control, and freeing yourself of the fear of its return.

Unlike the approach of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and other similar groups, which aim to terminate not only the addiction but also the activity itself, the model that I am going to introduce to you is designed to stop the addiction but not the continuation of the actual activity (assuming it’s not illegal – if it is, this needs to be stopped for reasons beyond your well-being). If you are currently addicted to a class A drug, then obviously there are exceptions and that needs to be halted. If, however, you drink too much, are not chemically addicted to it, and want to still have a social drink every so often without the fear of reprising your addiction, as someone who is not an addict can, then this is the direction for you. It is, in many cases, the addiction that brings people down, not whatever it is that you are addicted to.

Just to quickly emphasise a point here. If you have been sober for the last five years and you are happy with your life, DO NOT nip down to your local bar for a stiff whisky. If you’ve managed to control your addiction by abstaining from it, I applaud you and in no way do I want to encourage you to reignite it again by falling back into old habits. You have found the method that works for you and that in itself is a key tenet of my blogging. If you are new to curbing addictions, however, then read on.

We’ve all seen the films where some character has to stand up in front of a big group of people at an AA meeting, introduce himself to everyone as an alcoholic and then affirm that he will never touch another drop for the rest of his life.

Imagine you’ve been on the wagon for the last three years and then one day you lose your job, your spouse leaves you and your dog dies. I would say that nine times out of ten, the initial response would be to go and drown your sorrows in a bottle of whisky. Almost anyone would but you can’t, because apparently you’re an alcoholic, even though you’ve been sober for the last three years. You reach your favourite old bar and contemplate entering it for a few seconds. Marriage, job, dead dog....whisky. That’s all there is to it and you enter the bar and recommence your hazy past.

If you’ve been following the dogma of AA, you’ve now failed yourself and the last three years of commitment that you’ve put in. You now see yourself as a failure, so continue drinking.

The next morning you wake up with a splitting headache and try to piece together the evening’s events. Shit, you think to yourself, I really am an alcoholic and this is always going to keep happening; fuck it, I’m going to drink the pain away.

And that’s what happens. By setting yourself up for such a devastating blow in the form of total failure as the alternative to total success, you are eternally at risk of eventually hitting rock bottom and reviving the addiction. I’m not saying that will definitely happen and as I said, if abstinence is already working for you, that is great. But if you are yet to find your answer, the chances of success are far greater if you implement the approach I am about to teach you.

Imagine if our jobless, spouseless, dogless friend allowed himself a small drink every so often. His mental reaction to getting mindlessly drunk after such a bad day would be significantly different than if he had been completely abstinent to the bottle for the previous three years. Enabling the mind to justify the activity can be an important step towards dealing with the mistake appropriately. An understanding of context and perspective is the first step towards this.

Although our friend is addicted to alcohol, it wasn’t the alcohol that put him on that path, it was an invisible thought that prompted him to take it up in the first place. I can’t tell you what these thoughts are, everyone’s are different, but I will help you to uncover them and then confront them in order to prevent the addiction from taking over your life.

There is a lot of conjecture about chemical vs psychological addiction (will power), and how the two differ. If your mind has become accustomed to and is dependent on the ravishing effects of whatever drug or substance you may be consuming, is it harder to free yourself from these substances than to free yourself from gambling, which involves the introduction of no additives into your body? I’ve had the opportunity to question people on both sides of the fence and their answers were quite enlightening. Addiction to alcohol is a substance addiction, and your body will need to be weaned. However, you will also be psychologically addicted to it and need to engage your will power to tackle the addiction head-on. Chemically addicted individuals tended to claim that the battle to gain control was longer and harder for them, because they had to shake the physical effects before they could confront the mental effects. What it boils down to is that the hardest thing to confront is your will power, regardless of what you are addicted to. Once you have that under control, the physical effects, if you need to address those, can be dealt with accordingly.

In gaining control of your addiction, you are in the driving seat and you can take it wherever you want. Control only comes through understanding your addiction’s existence; once achieved, it is at your whim. By using the disease model, as the AA does, they might very well be bringing an end to participation in an activity that causes a lot of heartache and pain – but that is all they do. They do not try to understand the underlying reasons for someone deciding to drink in the first place, meaning all they can do is cover up the problem instead of addressing it. ‘Once an alcoholic, always an alcoholic’ is a slogan that springs to mind. That is complete bullshit. They treat their members like senseless children, devoid of the baseline faculties required to control their own destiny. It is far easier for them to cut something out completely than to take the time to research the reasons for its existence.

It may last for a couple of months or maybe even a few years but you live in constant fear that the pain of the repression will eventually get too much for you, that you will one day crack under the pressure and revert back to your addiction. It’s not the addiction that causes this pain, it is the repression. It is known as a repressive time bomb and until you understand how to completely free yourself from the addiction, it could unexpectedly explode at any given time. The fundamental ethos behind AA and all other 12 step programmes is to repress wholeheartedly the addictive state. No wonder they have such a low success rate.

If you carry on repressing your addiction, you may well find yourself partaking in other addictive activities to try to divert your mind away from what you’re trying to forget; such as smoking, drinking, excessive exercise, overeating, drugs, workaholism, obsessive sexual activity etc.

If you don’t take up anything else, you could find yourself in absolute agony trying to push the desire out of your mind; afraid to go outside, watch TV or do anything that might trigger another episode. Your fear of the addiction’s reprisal actually makes you worse off than when you were knowingly partaking in the activity.

If you want to stop smoking or stop drinking and never touch another drink or cigarette for the rest of your life, then by all means get in contact with AA or another similar programme. Even if it does work (which only happens 33% of the time) you will be living your life in darkness, ignorant of the very reasons behind your enforced sobriety. Should you not be worried that without understanding its cause, it could manifest itself in another way? Getting to know your demons helps you to take charge: keep your friends close but your enemies closer.

The next blog will give you specific tips and techniques designed for regaining back self-control within yours or a loved ones life.

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